Friday June 29, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- With the new fiscal year set to begin Sunday, Massachusetts lawmakers have approved a final version of a $32.5 billion state budget proposal.

Senators voted in favor of the proposed budget Thurs day, shortly after the measure passed in the House of Representatives. It now heads to Gov. Deval Patrick, who has 10 days to review, sign it and issue any vetoes.

"This budget makes smart investments to maintain our fiscal health and continue our economic recovery and job growth," Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said in a statement. "It also reflects our priority to protect important funding for the essential services and programs in the Commonwealth."

The spending plan includes $898 million in local aid for cities and towns, tightens restrictions on the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer cards by welfare recipients, and maintains 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital, which state officials were considering closing.

Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, who pushed for funding at the state hospital, said while the funding is not exactly what he hoped for, it is a "good compromise."

In January, the Patrick administration announced it was closing the hospital, saying it was antiquated and not cost effective. The House and governor had suggested moving most of its patients to a new state hospital opening in Worcester.

"We faced an uphill battle after the House accepted the Governor’s proposal.


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This budget will allow us to keep the lights on at Taunton State Hospital," Pacheco said in a statement.

Additionally, the budget includes no new taxes or fees but relies on $516 million in one-time funds, including a $350 million withdrawal from the state’s rainy day fund. That still leaves the state with a rainy day fund of more than $1 billion, lawmakers said.

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr., of North Reading, said he believes the budget benefited from "the inclusion of priorities of the House Republican Caucus," like EBT reform.

The final budget tries to limit the use of welfare benefit cards by cracking down on what recipients can buy and where they can use the cards.

Republicans also praised the budget provision that requires applicants to provide a driver’s license, Social Security number or other proof of legal residence when registering a motor vehicle.

"The changes approved by the House and Senate today will help protect those residents who choose to play by the rules while punishing those individuals who would rather manipulate the system for their own advantage," said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester.

Legislative leaders said they made a special push in the budget to help restore aid to local communities after several years of fiscal belt-tightening.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump commended lawmakers for adding to the budget reimbursements to school systems that were affected last year by a state program related to busing and educating homeless school children. The budget provides $11.3 million in reimbursements.